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ALL THE WILD HUNGERS

A Season of Cooking and Cancer


“My sister is pregnant with a Lemon this week, Week 14, and this is amusing. My mother’s uterine tumor, the size of a cabbage, is Week 30, and this is terrifying.”

When her mother is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Karen Babine—a cook, collector of thrifted vintage cast iron, and fiercely devoted daughter, sister, and aunt—can’t help but wonder: feed a fever, starve a cold, but what do we do for cancer? And so she commits herself to preparing her mother anything she will eat, a vegetarian diving headfirst into the unfamiliar world of bone broth and pot roast.

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“My sister is pregnant with a Lemon this week, Week 14, and this is amusing. My mother’s uterine tumor, the size of a cabbage, is Week 30, and this is terrifying.”

When her mother is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Karen Babine—a cook, collector of thrifted vintage cast iron, and fiercely devoted daughter, sister, and aunt—can’t help but wonder: feed a fever, starve a cold, but what do we do for cancer? And so she commits herself to preparing her mother anything she will eat, a vegetarian diving headfirst into the unfamiliar world of bone broth and pot roast.

In these essays, Babine ponders the intimate connections between food, family, and illness. What draws us toward food metaphors to describe disease? What is the power of language, of naming, in a medical culture where patients are too often made invisible? How do we seek meaning where none is to be found—and can we create it from scratch? And how, Babine asks as she bakes cookies with her small niece and nephew, does a family create its own food culture across generations?

Generous and bittersweet, All the Wild Hungers is an affecting chronicle of one family’s experience of illness and of a writer’s culinary attempt to make sense of the inexplicable.

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  • Milkweed Editions
  • Paperback
  • January 2019
  • 184 Pages
  • 9781571313720

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$16.00

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About Karen Babine

Babine_3_Brandi_Ashman_copyKaren Babine is the author of All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer and Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life, winner of the 2016 Minnesota Book Award for memoir/creative nonfiction, and a finalist for the Midwest Book Award and the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. She also edits Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Eastern Washington University and a PhD in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She lives in Minnesota.

Author Website

Praise

“Out so early next year that they’re practically releasing this year, Babine’s essays focus on food as a vehicle for handling the pain of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. The kitchen, with its organized forms of chemistry and alchemy, with its ability to turn disparate parts into something whole and sating, is the place where she goes to confront the disease. . . . [Babine’s] lines are like poetry—which is exactly how good food, and family, should be.” ―Book Riot (Best Food Books from 2018)

“The book is replete with style. . . . Achingly sad and incredibly beautiful, Karen Babine’s All the Wild Hungers is a welcoming invitation to dinner, family, and laughter, evoking a warm, full kitchen and good company.”Foreword Reviews

“Transportive and vivid . . . Babine’s writing brims with tenderness―for her family, her home, and the food she prepares―warming readers’ hearts.”Publishers Weekly

“For the author, food sustains like a lifeline or even a bloodline. . . . [Babine] continues to navigate her way through extraordinary challenges with ordinary comforts, finding poetry in the everyday. Reading this quiet book should provide the sort of balm for those in similar circumstances.”Kirkus

“A lush gem of a book, both heartbreaking and heart-making. Karen Babine’s language is the plush dough she kneads, her observations as elastic as gluten bubbles. By the book’s conclusion you will become a child again, standing on a chair to peer into the pot, not wanting the process of making―of cooking, of understanding, of as she says, ‘consuming the knowing’―to ever end.”―Amy Thielen, author of Give a Girl a Knife

“In this beautiful and haunting book, Karen Babine leads us into the kitchen and cooks healing meals for her mother and herself. With humor and imagination, she names each of her cast iron pots, reclaimed from thrift stores, and simmers the elements of grief and longing, hope and love, with acceptance, insight, and wisdom.”―Beth Dooley, author of In Winter’s Kitchen: Growing Roots and Breaking Bread in the Northern Heartland

“In All the Wild Hungers, Karen Babine welcomes us into the small consolations and quiet moments that define a life. These elegant meditations on food, faith, and family ring with absolute truth and clarity.”―Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire

“As Karen Babine astutely notes, cancer divides us, sharpens distinctions, isolates, and quarantines. But All the Wild Hungers reunifies (mother and daughter, sufferer and witness, writer and reader) through metaphors of food and family as a private grief is made bearable and shareable in brief, calm, threatening essays about how everyday life must continue amidst uncertainty and pain. The book powerfully and beautifully enacts the stillness we need to survive.”―Patrick Madden, author of Quotidiana

Discussion Questions

1. What are the different communities of care that are explored across this book?

2. Babine writes that “We process fear—the threat of harm—physically, chemically… But whether fear is physical or emotional remains a grey area” (101). What are the different ways fear takes shape in this book, and how does Babine and her family mitigate that fear?

3. This is a memoir full of metaphors that helps us to approach the unknowable. What are some of the metaphors used to understand illness, and where do those metaphors fall short in the face of the reality of cancer?

4. There is a philosophical thread throughout the book that explores the act of “acknowledging the absurd and living your life in spite of your inability to come to any sort of meaning” (55). What meaning is Babine creating out of the food she cooks for her family? How else is absurdity reckoned with in the book?

5. How does Babine explore the political aspects of both food and medical care? How do class and gender affect or alter the challenges that are born of the politics of food and illness?

6. Color proves important in Babine’s search for meaning through cooking, from her bright orange cast-iron named Agnes to the lemon-yellow Dutch oven named Estelle. How does Babine work with the emotional landscape of color throughout the book, and to what effect? What other sensual details (smell, taste, sound) lend meaning to the food she makes?

7. Babine asks, “Can we consume knowing? Can we waste away without it?” (62). What are the different ways knowledge is created, shared, and retained among Babine’s family and friends?